About 17 years ago, I was a software sales guy. I had been a product manager for a product that did not exist. We had just gotten a new CEO and he told me to go and create the PRD (Product Requirements Document) for a web-enabled version of our property management and central reservation system. I completed this assignment and the product was ultimately developed. I still see it used at hotels and large restaurant chains. Of course, my original PRD probably went through 100 revisions and only about 0.01% of my work actually went into the final product but since when are we into such details, right?
Anyway, a few months passed and I was told that my boss was leaving so the company would be moving me into the sales organization. Huh? They put me in charge of “major accounts.” This was a glorified title for what essentially ended up being filling out RFPs. This was an aging software company that was fighting like hell to avoid a death spiral but it was still a 200+ person company doing $40M in business. Which is to say, we still had a pretty polished group of salespeople who knew what they were doing. I was just relieved not to get in their way.
I returned to marketing after that brief sales stint and working a few years in PR and analyst relations and there I stayed until a recent experience at a small startup in Southern California. To cut to the chase, we ran into some difficulties and needed to make some dramatic changes, including significant downsizing. We kept one sales rep on staff but let the others go. In parallel, my CEO told me that I now had to do three jobs. Marketing VP. The Sales VP (in function but not in job title). And, I was also helping the CEO with fundraising. For almost two quarters, I was flying around the country on sales calls, VC meetings, and doing the full-time marketing and inside sales work. After all, I still had people to manage. It was a crazy period but I loved every minute of it. Mostly, the people were great but that is not all. And, here is the rest of the “why” …
Whenever CEOs hire a new marketing executive, they ask “what will you do in the first 60-days on the job?” The answers are typically the same. It is some variation of … meet my peers and get to know the teams, get up to speed on the products, talk to our customers to understand their pain points, engage with the sales leaders to grasp the buyer’s compelling events, and blah blah blah. Some advanced marketing retreads will go one step further. They will talk about quickly launching this or that. Start producing results. Uplevel the message. Transform us into a platform company and move us up the solution stack, and blah blah blah. Look. I am also guilty as charged. I have given those answers before, too.
But, after my recent experience wearing both marketing and sales hats and “carrying the bag” l (on very uncomfortable economy seats), nope … no more. Not giving those answers. Going forward, my answer to what I am going to do in the first 60 days will be - go on on sales calls, PERIOD. I believe this should mandatory requirement for top marketers responsible for directing the department that supercedes all else.
I learned a lot of things that are worth sharing in case you have never carried the bag.
While marketing is typically a linear process, sales is much more erratic. So much preparation goes into every type of sales meeting at every stage of the pipeline. Prospects pepper you with email missives and questions out of left field - some relevant but many that are not. Regardless, all of them need to be responded to quickly. You have to chase down the legal team to approve an LOI, or hunt down a pre-sales engineer to modify the demo or expedite a PoC proposal. Meanwhile, there is a bunch of clerical work that is necessary to keep the calendar humming. As you are editing the 50th iteration of your powerpoint for a pitch only to receive an email from the CEO or VP of Sales that slide 8 is an old one we discarded (gasp) last month. It just goes on and on. It is a shock that more reps do not regularly punch a hole through the wall.
Each day that passes, you start wondering why the prospect you met last week is not returning your emails or calls. You could have sworn he loved your product even more than your own co-founder/CTO. Around the same time, the marketing people send you an email with a huge attachment that implores you follow up on these trade show leads.
I could go on but you get the idea. If you have just started a new job as the top marketing leader, you really have everything to gain by spending the first 60 days in a sales role, performing all of the duties of a sales rep. It is not simply to empathize or to understand your sales colleagues better. It is so you can understand the customer and sales cycle firsthand. Everything else can and will wait.
At the outset, the true currency of startup marketing is not brand equity or awareness or mindshare or press hits or lead attribution or any other metric. The currency is revenue attainment. Everything else can come later.